NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has deprecated the “inordinate delays” by government authorities in filing appeals before it and says they “must pay for wastage of judicial time” and such costs can be recovered from officers responsible.
A bench headed by Justice S K Kaul said the Apex Court could not be a place for the governments to walk in when they chose to ignore the period of limitation prescribed in the statute.
“We have raised the issue that if the government machinery is so inefficient and incapable of filing appeals and petitions in time, the solution may lie in requesting the Legislature to expand the time period for filing limitation for government authorities because of their gross incompetence. That is not so,” said the bench, also comprising Justice Dinesh Maheshwari.
“Till the statute subsists, the appeals and petitions have to be filed as per the statues prescribed,” the bench said in its order while dealing with an appeal filed by Madhya Pradesh after a delay of 663 days.
The top court noted the explanation given in the application for condonation of delay which stated that it was due to unavailability of documents and process of arranging them and also that in “bureaucratic process works, it is inadvertent that delay occurs”.
“We are constrained to pen down a detailed order as it appears that all our counselling to government and government authorities have fallen on deaf ears i.e., the Supreme Court of India cannot be a place for the governments to walk in when they choose to ignore the period of limitation prescribed,” it said.
The bench said a “preposterous proposition” was sought to be propounded that if there was some merit in the case, the period of delay was to be given a go-by.
“If a case is good on merits, it will succeed in any case. It is really a bar of limitation which can even shut out good cases. This does not, of course, take away the jurisdiction of the court in an appropriate case to condone the delay,” it said.
The bench noted that such approach was being adopted and the object appeared to be to obtain a certificate of dismissal from the Supreme Court to put a quietus to the issue and thus, say that nothing could be done because the highest court has dismissed the appeal.
“It is to complete this formality and save the skin of officers, who may be at default, that such a process is followed. We have on earlier occasions also strongly deprecated such a practice and process. There seems to be no improvement,” it said.
“The purpose of coming to this court is not to obtain such certificates and if the government suffers losses, it is time when the concerned officer responsible for the same bears the consequences,” the bench noted.
The top court said no action was taken against the officers, who sit on the files and do nothing, and it was presumed that the court would condone the delay.
“We are thus, constrained to send a signal and we propose to do in all matters today, where there are such inordinate delays that the government or state authorities coming before us must pay for wastage of judicial time which has its own value. Such costs can be recovered from the officers responsible,” the bench said.
It noted in its order that no doubt, some leeway was given for “government inefficiencies” but the sad part was that authorities kept on relying on judicial pronouncements for a period of time when technology had not advanced and a greater leeway was given to the government.
The bench, which dismissed the appeal on the ground of delay, imposed a cost of Rs 25,000 on Madhya Pradesh and said it was to be deposited within four weeks with the Mediation and Conciliation Project Committee.
“The amount be recovered from the officers responsible for the delay in filing the special leave petition and a certificate of recovery of the said amount be also filed in this court within the said period of time,” it said.
The bench made it clear that if its order is not complied within time, it would be constrained to initiate contempt proceedings against the Chief Secretary of the state.